Higher Education

The following news release came from the students fighting the sale of the Vanderbilt radio station, WRVU, lead in the main by the 5,700-strong Facebook page, here (link also on right). It details the tack taken by the college-radio grim reaper, Chris Carroll, titular capo of VSC, who has presided over the sale of at least two other college stations before leading the charge here:

Below is the latest written “release” from the VSC. The VSC has been mum on official statements in regard to the rationale for a WRVU on-air license sale. Recall that this summer the sale was announced along with a VSC written FAQ (see: http://www.vandymedia.org/wrvu/ ). The FAQ and any further releases have been sparse and therefore, causing everyone, particularly the student WRVU staff, to trip over themselves trying to figure out what VSC is thinking and why.

Earlier this month, the following email was sent out from Chris Carroll, The VSC Media Adviser, presumably on behalf of the VSC. It lists some pretty open-ended questions that evidently pass as their rationale. Ultimately, I believe that a point-by-point response to these will need to be organized and issued. Feel free to post your ideas and comments that can be used as a starting point for a collected ‘official’ response.

Vanderbilt Student Communications, Inc. • Board of Directors
WRVU Exploration ‑ Working Draft of Key Issues
Requested by Victor Clarke, WRVU General Manager, Dec. 1, 2010

An objective of the VSC Board of Directors is to take action that will benefit the greatest number of Vanderbilt students over the longest period of time. Key among its responsibilities is the obligation to preserve opportunities in media for students well into the future.

Assuming the VSC Board of Directors is presented an offer of an amount deemed acceptable (that amount TBD) to purchase the broadcast license for WRVU and establish an endowment, what are some of the issues the board might consider when contemplating whether to go forward with a sale?

• Is there an immediate alternative to fund an endowment? Are there likely alumni or other donors willing to match or substantially match the sale offer?

• Is the revenue potential presented by retaining the broadcast license equal to or greater than the offer? Are there changes that could be made to WRVU programming or management that would result in substantial underwriting income? What would be the probability of success of such an effort?

• Is there strong evidence to suggest that delaying a sale would result in a larger offer at a later date?

• Would the learning experience for students affiliated with WRVU differ substantively if the station’s programming was online only? How can this difference be measured? If the learning experience were diminished, would that loss outweigh the opportunities presented by an endowment?

• Would the developmental/recreational (co-curricular student development) value of WRVU differ substantively for students if the station’s programming was online only? How can this difference be measured? If the student activity experience were diminished, would that loss outweigh the opportunities presented by an endowment?

• Would student involvement change substantively for WRVU if the station’s programming was online only? How can this be predicted? If participation levels were diminished, would that loss outweigh the opportunities presented by an endowment?

• How large is WRVU’s off-campus broadcast audience? What benefits are gained for VSC and students by having this broadcast audience? How are these benefits measured? Is serving WRVU’s Middle Tennessee broadcast listeners a priority that outweighs the opportunities presented by an endowment?

• How large is WRVU’s campus broadcast audience? How would the transition to online only programming impact those student listeners? How might this be predicted? What level of decline, if any, would outweigh the opportunities presented by an endowment?

• What is the intrinsic value of retaining the WRVU broadcast license as a legacy to alumni and the community? How can this be measured? Does this value outweigh the opportunities presented by an endowment?

• Are there other persuasive arguments that support retaining the broadcast license that outweigh the opportunities presented by an endowment?

We can think of at least a few other salient questions missing from his list: If WRVU were represented on the VSC board, would this proposed sale have gone this far in Nashville — the Music City? Does Chris Carroll really belong in a leadership role of any kind at Vanderbilt (a sober-sided bean counter ruling on cultural matters)?


Digital Payback

This comment, on Slashdot, a discussion board covering a multitude of subjects, pretty much summarizes the state of IBOC vis-à-vis its European counterpart, Digital Radio Mondiale:

In my opinion it’s a moot issue. I’ve worked on HD Radio exciters for some years, first with great enthusiasm and now with very little. It’s a great idea on paper but when you listen to an actual radio in the real world the difference is VERY underwhelming. AM is a lot bigger improvement but FM is almost a wash. I can’t imagine anyone paying for so minimal an improvement. If you’re into AM talk radio I can see it but I don’t think anyone is going to pay the iBiquity tax (every radio manufacturer has to pay for iBiquity IP to have an HD decoder) to have a radio that “sounds a little better.” The ability to send multiple programs over the same signal benefits the radio station owner far more than the listener and it doesn’t seem to be taking off. The stations don’t seem to know what to do with the extra programming time (that could change though). I’ve heard the market penetration reports weekly (from iBiquity) for years. At first it was going like gangbusters. Now it’s just dying and iBiquity is in BIG trouble. They’ve been considered for acquisition by both Apple and Google and apparently neither found them worthy. That should tell you something…. My company doesn’t even want to continue updating the software for these devices because there simply isn’t enough payback to make it worth doing. Radio stations aren’t buying because it’s not making much difference to their advertisers.

And from a radio engineering type:

I’m a broadcast engineer who has installed several HD-R systems (two AM, three FM). My biggest complaint, and one that I’ve shared quite vocally in my own industry, is the *extremely* closed-source nature of HD radio. It’s not just, “we’ve copyrighted it and you must pay for each use,” it’s, “we own it, the WHOLE THING is a top secret, and unless you pay us a huge fee, you can’t even think about making modifications or adding anything to what we deem useful or appropriate.”

Just one example of many: the first exciters that we received used a very simple ID3 tagging scheme for the PAD data, sent via UDP to a well-known port. The “exporters” (the non-intuitive name for the devices that allow us to multicast, i.e., put more than one format on a single FM signal) use a closed, proprietary client-server model. I’ve looked at it with Wireshark and it appears that ID3 is imbedded in the packets, but it just wasn’t worth the bother to try to figure out the whole thing. iBiquity ain’t tellin’ unless you pay them a license fee.

I imagine that iBiquity assumed (and told their investors) that, because they’d have exclusive rights, it would be a Pot Of Gold(tm). That hasn’t panned out, so they’re desperately trying to monetize every little aspect of the system among those of who bit the bullet and paid (substantial, mind you!) fees to initially install it during the rollout. Want to add multicast channels? You pay for that. Want to add iTunes tagging? Ditto. OH … and you want to write your own stuff to ride in the PAD (program associated data) slot, maybe customize something for your own station? Sorry, we don’t support that yet, but we may eventually …

Instead, in this day and age of competition from all sorts of delivery sources (streaming, anyone?), it has simply slowed uptake to a crawl. Ford originally announced that they’d have HD receivers in their cars a few years ago. That slipped; they said it would be 2009 for sure. THAT slipped. Now we’re almost in 2011, and there still aren’t very many HD receivers in cars. They are supposedly going to do it in 2012, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

If iBuiquity had simply patented the delivery method (the “container,” for you geeks here 🙂 ) and made the license fees rational, HD-R would be in 80-90% of the stations in the United States. Instead, it languishes, and we (i.e., radio engineers) are looking at another AM Stereo debacle: we paid tons of money up front, promoted it to death, and it died anyway.

As for going with DRM or some other system, that would be asking broadcasters to abandon their (substantial) investment in HD-R and make a completely new investment in a new system. I hope I’m not too cynical now, but I honestly believe that the future is in wireless streaming. Let’s keep our streams clean and clear sounding, concentrate on programming, and when the inevitable coast-to-coast wireless coverage finally arrives, we’ll already be positioned to survive. I think that moving to DRM now would be a mistake, myself.

And another engineer speaks out:

I am a broadcast engineer with over 30 years of experience.

IBOC is a true joke. It’s the FIRST broadcast service ever authorized by the FCC that actually CAUSES interference — mostly to your NEIGHBORS above and below you on the dial! IBOC is also an FCC sanctioned PRIVATELY owned system that costs broadcasters over $25K in upfront licensing fees — and then more in continuing royalty payments.

What most of us want (broadcast engineers) is for the FCC to authorize TV channels 5 and 6 for a dedicated digital radio band using DRM. Low band VHF is the WORST place for Digital Television (it goes in order UHF channels 20-40, UHF channels 14-20, UHF channels 40-51 , VHF channels 7-13 and finally VHF channels 2-6). Right now there are about 25 DTV stations on channels 5 and 6 in the entire country — and it’s been proven that EVERY ONE can be accommodated on UHF (To accommodate the station in Philadelphia on channel 6, a station in Reading, PA would have to move to a different UHF channel and give Philly its current channel, OR Philadelphia can move to channel 3 if they insist on staying on low band VHF-a BAD idea!).

If the FCC got off their ever widening ASS and did this, every AM station that wanted a digital FM could have one — with enough left over for every FM station too — AND a nationwide FM frequency for the National Weather Service/Homeland Security to operate on!

The Air War in Houston

Writing on the site Radio Survivor, Jennifer Waits heaped kudos on the stalwarts at Rice University fighting for their student radio station. The bean counters at Rice and UH had countered the petition students had filed with the FCC, and now the students have fired back:

On December 13, both University of Houston and Rice University sent in letters of opposition to the FCC in response to Friends of KTRU’s “Petition to Deny.” Today, Friends of KTRU fought back with a reply to the FCC that enumerates all of the reasons why the stated oppositions by Rice and University of Houston do not address the negative impact of the station sale on the public interest and on the educational intent of the FCC license at issue….

“‘The claims of Rice University and the University of Houston System miss the underlying points of the Petition to Deny,’ said Joey Yang, KTRU station manager. ‘They failed to address two of our major points: that the license transfer undermines the educational purpose of the FM license, and that elimination of KTRU-FM will harm the FCC’s commitment to localism. We call on the FCC to recognize these and the many other salient points in our Petition to Deny. The future of Houston radio depends on it.’”

The letter states flatly that in the sale of KTRU to University of Houston, a changed format is not the main issue:

Rice continues by demeaning its own students’ educational experiences at KTRU, calling the student-run operations broadcasting over the KTRU License nothing more ‘than an extracurricular activity,’ while noting that UHS [University of Houston System] has a broadcast journalism major that will better prepare students for a career in professional broadcasting. The students who have single-handedly run KTRU since its inception would surely disagree with that assertion, particularly those UHS [University of Houston System] students who were unable to obtain hands-on experience at KUHF [the University of Houston radio station] and found opportunity and open doors at KTRU to gain practical broadcasting experience.

Jennifer further enumerates the arguments presented by the students:

They go on to explain that the sale of KTRU would be detrimental because it “does not truly serve the educational public interest.” I was also pleased to see that in their letter, Friends of KTRU mentions the growing trend of universities selling off their student radio stations in order to make a profit and seeks the Commission’s assistance in addressing this trend before more educational radio stations are lost. They also point out how sad it is that Rice University, in its letter of opposition, suggests that prospective students seeking broadcast experiences should apply to other institutions.

Additionally, the letter makes the point that if the FCC approves the sale of KTRU to University of Houston, the resulting public radio station will not have as strong a commitment to localism as the current student-run KTRU. The plan is for the University of Houston-run station to air mostly syndicated national and international programming and according to the letter written by Friends of KTRU, “UHS’ Application reveals not one additional program to be added to its stations that is specific to the local Houston area.”

We too are impressed by the fight the Owls are putting up and share Jennifer’s hope that others may learn from their experience in this battle.

The War Drags On

More news of local stations absorbed into the borg. This post, entitled “WXEL’s soul at stake, opponents say, as state board considers sale of public radio station,” on the website for the Palm Beach Post News, details the impending sale of the local classical radio station from Barry University to Classical South Florida, owned by the Minnesota-based public radio conglomerate American Public Media. The opposition voices some oft-heard complaints:

Palm Beach County residents who oppose the sale fear that the new owner will strip Boynton Beach-based WXEL of its local character, turning it into a generic classical music station.

The dissenters, who consider Barry an outsider, also complain that the university has gone about the sale without consulting them.

And this from Baton Rouge, on the website 2thadvocate:

Beginning Jan 3, WRKF-FM (89.3), Baton Rouge’s National Public Radio affiliate, no longer will play classical music, switching to news and talk programs 24 hours a day.

The change represents the first time in the 30-year history of the station that classical music will not be played at any hour, Gordon said.

Surveys over recent years show that listeners tune in primarily for NPR news, he said.

And this about the current strategy of selling HD radio, which entails moving local music to IBOC (note the reference to “High Definition”):

Classical music will be played 24 hours a day at WRKF HD 2, the station’s HD or High Definition channel. Gordon said listeners will need HD radio receivers to tune in to the classical music programming….

According to the release, the station will add “The Diane Rehm Show” and the BBC World Service to the weekday schedule. They will fill the slots where classical music now is being played.

The article continues to list the additional canned news shows that will be added to the schedule of the analogue station.

The Same Old Song

The website for Radio magazine posted a year-end review of HD radio entitled “2010 Just Another Year for Digital Radio,” noting that ads for HD sets with all the bells and whistles proliferate, yet concluded, on a more negative note:

All good, but . . . something’s still missing. Call it grass roots consumer passion for digital radio, or the buzz that typically marks an inflection point on an adoption curve.

Perhaps that’s why HD Radio conversions stalled this year. The big groups bought in early, as did public radio with help from some hefty CPB grants. But the rest of us remained on the sidelines, watching for a sign that the moment to invest had finally arrived. And we’re still there today.

Clearly the U.S. experience isn’t unique — far from it. Around the world, digital radio is advancing in, well, dribbles. . . .

If anything became clear this year, it’s that the standards battle has come and gone. There are now lots of clever ways to digitally deliver audio content, including wireless broadband and smartphones. They all work pretty well — simply pick one that suits your nation’s business and social model, or mix and match.

Even so, there’s no denying that at the end of 2010 people — ordinary everyday people — are still waiting to hear why digital radio is must-have technology.

Meanwhile, this post on Radio Ink is sort of a desperate attempt to link HD with something good and AM radio, but the commenters don’t seem to buy it:

Oh that will solve all of AM radio’s problems, won’t it? Can’t he just give AM the mercy killing it deserves and migrate those stations that are left to an expanded FM band?
Harry Kozlowski

OMG . . . will this new data service solve AM’s problems? Impulse noise, low fidelity, lousy programming, no listeners . . . will it solve any problem? No. This is like putting a hat on a slug and calling it “Cute.” What are these people thinking?

Doesn’t the last paragraph tell the tale? Isn’t iNiquity the company which has been trying for years to whip analog radio away from we citizens, and inflict its digital scheme on us? Isn’t this sub rosa approach always suggestive of chicanery? Isn’t that why Germany and other countries dumped digital radio, because listeners don’t want it, retailers can’t sell it, and legitimate broadcasters shun it?
Paul Vincent Zecchino

Local Heroes

Jennifer Waits, writing on the Radio Survivor blog, reports on one local public radio group that manage to escape assimilation into the borg:

When universities put their radio stations up for sale, more often than not the people lining up with cash in hand are non-local radio groups. So, it’s a wonderful surprise when those who work at a  station that’s on the chopping block take the initiative to save the station from outside parties. As we reported last year, public radio station WLIU found itself for sale after the State University of New York at Stony Brook took over the Long Island University campus in Southampton, New York.

Campus radio dated back to as early as the 1970s at the formerly named Southampton College, with stations broadcasting over carrier current (WSCR, which eventually morphed into an Internet-only student station and is presumably now defunct) and FM (WPBX, which was renamed WLIU). Most recently WLIU has been broadcasting a public radio format. When the station was put up for sale, a group of community members and station staffers formed Peconic Public Broadcasting in order to make a bid for the station. For the past year they have been fundraising and working hard to make their purchase of the station a reality.

Peconic Public Broadcasting successfully completed its acquisition of WLIU on Wednesday, December 15 and the station announced that it will now be broadcasting under the new call letters WPPB at 88.3 FM. According to a press release, the new station will continue to air public radio programming, but with “added local emphasis.”

As Jennifer notes, and we concur: “It’s great to see that community members in Southampton were able to keep their station both independent and locally owned and it’s nice to finally hear some good news about a college radio station sale.”

Brazil Knows the True Value of HD

The radio guys were yukking it up over the yahoo translation of this Brazilian website concerned with digital radio. The clumsy translation is here. Writing on the Radio-info.com discussion board, radioskeptic said:

There are some interesting comments about “HD” on the web site http://www.drm-brasil.org/node/21 . It’s in Portuguese, but here’s a rough translation: http://babelfish.yahoo.com/translate_url?doit=done&tt=url&intl=1&fr=bf-home&trurl=http://www.drm-brasil.org/node/21&lp=pt_en&btnTrUrl=Translate

Yes, the machine translation is terrible. It’s disconcerting to see “ondas medias” (medium waves) rendered as “average waves,” “bandas laterais” (sidebands) as “lateral bands” and “canal” (channel in this context) as “canal,” but it will nevertheless show you that Brazilians seem to have a clear idea of the true worth (ha!) of “HD” radio.

Note that there are no comments—not one!—in defense of Iniquity’s junk technology. If you wonder why there aren’t, it’s probably because Iniquity and the Alliance aren’t investing any money in training internet trolls for that purpose overseas.  (If you think I’m kidding about companies and political factions running training programs for internet trolls, see http://www.alternet.org/media/149197/are_right-wing_libertarian_internet_trolls_getting_paid_to_dumb_down_online_conversations/null?page=entire)

I can’t help but suspect than anybody who defends “HD” is part of a carefully cultivated Astroturf campaign!

The yahoo translation makes the following assessments of HD:

“To fry bacon in a pan,” it is as the interference 20 co-canal sounds when you are 10 or KHz of one of the station of radio AM transmitting with iBiquity Digital HD Radio. At night north-eastern of U.S.A., a true storm of digital noise appears in all the band of transmission of the AM (average waves) hindering the reception of many distant stations. How confusion!…

Now on money and great companies, it seems that this is the fuel of the society of today more than what never. You already saw the licensing agreement where the radio stations you must submit to the patents of the Digital Ibiquity Corporation in order to be able to work? Well, he is here: Licensing Fact Sheet 2009.

Here he is cerne of what the sender must agree if desires to transmit IBOC HD Radio:

  1. The agreement is perpetual. You are algemado to the Ibiquity, its supplier and benefactor, forever.
  2. To pay an only tax of US$ 25,000 to the Ibiquity for rights of transmission of the audio canal of main. The now paid station a private company, with lucrative ends for the right to transmit its signal main.
  3. Distribution of prescriptions (part of its profit goes for the Ibiquity). It pays to 3% of the net revenue incremental derivative of any suplemental services of audio possible with technology HD Radio (a minimum of 1.000 dollars per year and audio canal of additional).
  4. More than prescription allotment (more than its profit goes for the Ibiquity). It pays to 3% of data-communication the net revenue incremental derivative auxiliary (given secondary and tertiary digital not associates with the main canal of primary data).
  5. It pays to me again. The updates of software of current system HD Radio must be permitted by the payment of an annual extra tax or the tax prevalecente at the moment of the ascent.

Then the translation gets to the heart of the matter — the complicity of the government, through the FCC (not to mention public radio) — in promulgating this deception:

E is sad to say, the Government of U.S.A. (on behalf of the FCC) acts as an agent money channeler to the Ibiquity, when the Ibiquity authorizeed to be the only supplier of technology HD Radio. It calls it monopoly, if to desire. Yeah, yeah, I know — therefore the Ibiquity has the patents on this technology. E from there? Money, money, money and more money. What it happened with the public interest? (already vi this film before…)…

One Rafael Diniz, who was included in an email exchange of the guys, responded:

Hi there people,
I’m one of the founders and maintainers of the DRM-Brasil national platform.
We are very afraid of the possibility of adoption of HD Radio here in
Brazil, but I think we are getting success to some extent in our task to
discrediting HD Radio.
; )

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